Jewish invasion alarms New York (1907)

From The Toronto Star, January 5, 1907

The Greatest Hebrew Community Ever Assembled, Over 800,000 Souls.


Real Estate and Clothing Favorite Fields – Will Starve to Gain End – Poverty to Affluence

New York – The Jews of New York City have recently celebrated the two hundred and fiftieth anniversary of their settlement on Manhattan island. In many ways it was the most triumphant episode in the long and lugubrious history of their race. It marked what is unquestionably Israel’s highest stage of social, political, and industrial development. It commemorated the progress of an energetic people from poverty to wealth, from ignorance to knowledge, from political and social ostracism to independence and power.

More striking still, it emphasized the vast contribution which the Jews have made, and will continue to make, to complex American civilization. The greatest American city is already, as far as numbers are concerned, largely Semitic. The twenty-seven Portuguese Jews who obtained a scant asylum in 1655 have multiplied into a colony of 800,000 souls. This is the greatest Jewish community ever assembled, in ancient or modern times, in any one place. Jerusalem itself, at its period of greatest development, sheltered not one-sixth as many Jews. Warsaw, the largest Jewish city except New York, contains 800,000, Lodz 120,000, and Vilna 100,000. In the whole United States there are 1,400,000; thus, in New York City three-fifths of our total Jewish population is found.

In the greater city one man in every five is a Jew; on Manhattan Island, one man in every four. And the Hebrew population grows faster than the other racial elements. The Biblical injunction is still accepted literally by Israel.  For every twenty Jews that die, thirty-five are born. By immigration alone, the Jewish districts increase 7,000 a year. At the present rate, New York, in ten years, will contain a million and a half of Jews – a city as large as Philadelphia now. While Mr. Zangwill and his fellow enthusiasts preach the return to Palestine, the real modern Zion, greater in numbers and wealth and power than the old, steadily gathers on Manhattan Island.

In Every Field

The Jews are active, and, invariably with success, in practically every business, professional, and intellectual field. The New Yorker constantly rubs elbows with Israel. The thoroughfares abound with Jewish hucksters, selling all imaginable jimcracks; certain streets are almost impassably clogged with Jewish pushcarts. Jewish young men are generally occupied as clerks, bookkeepers, and salesmen; Jewish girls are largely employed as stenographers.

Take a walk up Broadway or the business sections of Fifth Avenue – the names on the signs are almost invariably Jewish. Turn into the great popular shopping district of Sixth Avenue – the largest department stores are owned by Jews. Drop in at the opera or the theater – the bediamonded audience, and even the performers, are frequently members of this race. Manhattan’s fifty theaters are practically all controlled by Jewish syndicates.

The most successful plays are the work of Jewish playwrights. Actors and actresses who received their training in the Ghetto now draw enormous audiences on Broadway. In Wall Street, business is largely in Jewish hands. Japan, for financial assistance in the recent war, turned several times to a great Jewish banking house of New York.

In all the professions the restless Hebrew is found. In the courts, the litigants, the lawyers at the bar, not infrequently the justices on the bench, are Jews. Many leading physicians are loyal Israelites. In the public schools they are the largest numerical element; the teachers, too, are frequently Jewesses; and in the higher educational institutions – Columbia University, the City College, and the Normal School – they invariably carry off the highest honors.

In the public service they are conspicuous, especially when positions are obtained by competitive examination. In the newly organized tenement house department, for example, three-fourths of the 400 employees – clerks, stenographers, copyists, and inspectors – are Jews. They often represent the city at Albany and Washington; the Jews from New York have been sent abroad as ambassadors. A New York Jew now sits in President Roosevelt’s Cabinet.

They Are Russian Jews.

Unquestionably we are thus face to face with one of the most remarkable phenomena of the time. New York, the headquarters of American wealth, intelligence and enterprise – the most complete physical expression, we have been told, of the American idea – seems destined to become overwhelmingly a Jewish town. More remarkable still, the great mass of its Jews are not what are commonly regarded as the most enlightened of their race. They are not drawn from Germany, from France, from Austria, and England – countries in which the Jew has been practically Europeanized; but from Hungary, from Poland, from Romania, from Galicia, above, from the Russian Empire.

A Few Instances.

Let us take a few specific instances. There is Harry Fischel, the owner, among numerous other properties, of the Grand Street Theater. Mr. Fischel, a native of Vilna, arrived at Castle Garden in 1884 with just sixty cents in his pocket – in Russia, he had been a carpenter; and the first week or two he spent – getting food. Heaven knows where – tramping from tenement house to tenement house, or standing, saw in hand, at the junction of East Broadway and Canal street, looking for a job. He finally got one – at three dollars a week, part of which he had to send home to Russia to keep his aged parents from starvation. Soon this was increased to six; and after a year and a half in this country Mr. Fischel found himself with a painfully accumulated fortune of $250. With this, he married and set up business for himself. He became a builder and prospered greatly. In one year he made $300,000. He is now worth not far from $800,000, and has built a $60,000 residence only a block or two from Andrew Carnegie’s Fifth Avenue mansion.

Then there is Harris Mandelbaum, who came during the anti-Jewish persecutions of the early ‘80s. He started in as a peddler. He toured the Irish and German sections with a pack on his back, containing clothes, calicoes, cheap jewelry, and miscellaneous notions. He rose in time to do an instalment business – furnishing wearing apparel to the poor at the rate of fifty cents a week. In this way he accumulated enough to buy a tenement house. He is now the owner of some twenty parcels of real estate, and easily worth a million. From Warsaw, about thirty years ago, came two brothers, tailors, Abraham and Julius Cohen. They became ol’ clo’ men and finally opened a second-hand clothing store on Baxter Street. Neither can read or write; but they long since passed the million-dollar mark.

New York’s great Jewish community has always supported itself by the labor of its own hands. It is the city’s largest productive force, and the greatest contributor to its manufacturing wealth. The Russian Jew has not been here many years before he had worked himself, in large numbers, into all the productive industries. By thousands he took to rolling cigars, making paper boxes, manufacturing surgical instruments, wrought-iron articles, lamps, hardware, cut-glass, practically all the readymade woodwork used in the building trades, proprietary medicines, drugs, leather goods, cutlery, furniture, upholstery, wagons, harness – indeed, it would be hard to find a manufacturing field in which he has not succeeded.

His greatest triumph, of course, has been his absolute control of the clothing trades. This is the largest industry of New York. It employs 175,000 craftsmen, who annually turn out a product valued at $300,000,000. It manufactures more than one-half of all the wearing apparel – men and women’s suits, cloaks, overcoats, underwear, hosiery, neckties, collars and cuffs, shoes, slippers, etc. – used in the United States. Its predominant factors are now the Russian Jews.

Precisely as they supplanted the Irish and Germans in their homes, have they taken their places in these trades. Fifty years ago all our tailors were native-born Americans; later they were Irishmen and Germans; now they are Jews – with a new sprinkling of Italians. Under the Jews, however, the business has reached its largest proportions. They have turned the whole East Side into one huge workshop.

In recent years, the Jewish manufacturer has pressed into service thousands of Italians. He has quickly utilized an alien population living on a lower economic plane than himself. In the control of the business he has forced to the wall not only the German, the Irishman, the native-born, but the German Jew. Recently one of the largest cloak manufacturers in the country, a German Jew, failed; he had succumbed to the competition of the Russian Jews. The prevalence of Jewish names on Broadway has already been noted; but the important fact is that German names every day give way to Russian. Ten years ago the signs were Oppenheimers, Rothschilds, Adlers, and Rosenthals; now the Rabinovitzes, Horowitzes, Welinskys, and Finkelsteins are increasing constantly.

In Real Estate.

The other field in which the Russian Jew has outdistanced all the competition is real estate. Here again he found a field for his restless energy and his individualism. Into landed property go all the profits made in the clothing and other maufacturing industries; and of the thousands of small shops scattered all over the East Side. With the Russian Jew it is the exclusive form of investment. Stocks and bonds are absolutely unsalable upon the East Side. The principle of dividends is incompletely understood. In this, as in all things, the Russian is an individualist; he cannot share property ownership with others. A few slips of paper, theoretically representing proprietorship of a part – that is not property in his eyes. On the East Side, prestige attaches generally to wealth; but especially to the ownership of real estate.

Thus we find a great active community working as one man for a single end – the acquisition of the soil. The East Side is possessed with an unending earth hunger. Wherever you see a Russian Jew, however insignificant his station, you see a prospective landlord. In attaining this position there are no hardships that he will not endure. Tenement properties are expensive, ranging on the East Side from $35,000 to $50,000 each; but thousands of humble immigrants are their owners.

They frequently start in the smallest way. First they become lessees. By constant saving the East-Sider gets together $200 or $300 with which, as security, he gets a four or five years’ lease of a house. He moved his own family into the least expensive apartment. He himself acts as janitor; his wife and daughters as scrubwomen and housekeepers. He is hiw own agent, his own painter, carpenter, plumber, and general repair man. Thus he reduces expenses to the minimum. He lets out apartments by the weeek, always calling promptly himself for the rent.

By thus giving constant attention to his work, he has, perhaps, a few hundred dollars every year as profit. By the time his lease expires, this has swollen to a few thousands. With this he buys a tenement outright. He puts down from $3,000 to $5,000 on a $45,000 building, giving one, two, three, sometimes four mortgages in payment of the rent. Then he repeats his old operations; moves into the cheapest flat, presses his family into sevice, cuts down all possible expenses, and gives the property his own immediate supervision. When the third of fourth mortgage comes due, he has invariably made enough out of the building to pay it off. He keeps on hard at work and likewise pays off the third and second. Then, as his rents still come in, he invests them in more tenements; until, as a monument to a life spent in the hardest sacrificial toil, he may own a string scattered all over the town.

Change Their Names.

The rapidity with which the New York Jew adopts the manners and trappings of Americans almost disproves his ancient heritage as a peculiar people. He objects to being regarded as a thing apart, and goes to extremes to make himself like a native-born. Everything that typifies the Russian he seeks to shake off. Thus he has a mania for changing his name. The Russian -skis and -vitches are liberally dropped. Levinsky becomes Levin; Grafinsky, Graf; Kudinosky, Kudin; Michaelowitz, Michaels. Stapinsky becomes Stevens; Shidlowsky, Sheldon; Willinsky, Wilson. Davidowitz readily translates into Davison or Davidson, Jacobson into Jackson. Russian and Polish Jews commonly have German names, precisely as they speak, not Russian – which only the educated know – but a German dialect. ♦